Tears of the Mountain chronicles a single day
in one man's lifeJuly 4, 1876along with a
series of flashbacks that all lead up to an eventful
Centennial Independence Day celebration in
Sonoma, California. Over the course of this
surprisingly pivotal moment in his life, Jeremiah
McKinley prepares for the celebration and for a
reunion with old friends and family.
However, as he reflects on past love, the
hazardous pioneer journey of his youth across
the continent from Missouri, and the many violent
conflicts of the West, voices of the long dead
come to him, while old wounds and enmities
resurface, threatening everything he holds dear.
Furthermore, a series of mysterious notes and
messages follow him throughout the day. When
a visiting senator is found dead, suspicion leads
to his old mentor, Professor Applewood, whose
sudden disappearance from the festivities makes
McKinley a suspected accessory to a fugitive.
John Addiego fills this tale of America’s coming of
age with wit and lively prose, seamlessly moving
back and forth through time in a novel that
recognizes both our darker side and our promise.
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Tears of the Mountain
By JOHN ADDIEGO
Unbridled BooksCopyright © 2010 John Addiego
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJuly 4, 1876
Near the western edge of the continent there is a country of hidden streams running under the earth and springing up through clefts of twisted shale. A rude structure of mud and redwood stands on a bench of land, the work of a self-proclaimed preacher named McKinley who had walked the breadth of North America, from the Virginia tidelands to the San Francisco Bay, and ended his days at the mouth of a Sonoma box canyon. This is the land he claimed by Mexican grant in 1845 and gave the name of Fin Hollow Glen. It was a notion among many that he refused to explain, an odd, aquatic image hewn from his mind onto a wood slab; nevertheless, the notion became place, the words became flesh, and the name remained musical and strange to McKinley's children and grandchildren beyond his death.
Thirty-one years after the farm's christening, at the beginning of this day, the nation's one hundredth birthday, McKinley's forty-six-year-old son, Jeremiah, lay in the cabin at Fin Hollow Glen, snuffling through the brush of a horseshoe mustache and dreaming. And in the dream Mr. Jeremiah McKinley stepped cautiously from brilliant California sunlight into the dark sanctuary of the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma. He inhaled the dank, sepulchral lime and waited for his eyes to adjust. Beneath the life-sized statues of Joseph and Mary at the ornate altar there was an absurd hole in the floor, which in the logic of dreams became an open trapdoor and a stairway.
He descended a polished mahogany staircase to a green door that opened into the vestibule of a saloon, where voices and clinking glasses resounded behind a frosted window. Pushing aside a thick purple curtain redolent of tobacco smoke, he found himself in a perfumed closet with a seat or bed, little more than a shelf wedged into the recess of a cold adobe wall. Through a tiny window of metal grating he saw his first wife, Teresa, her oval face and dark eyes framed by a blue rebozo.
She let the head scarf drop and shook her long hair loose. Her shoulders were bare. "I want to confess," she said in Spanish, breathlessly. "I want forgiveness."
"I don't have the authority of a father," he said.
"I don't want a priest."
"I already forgave you, Teresa," he said, "a long time ago."
"Para Miguel, también?"
She spoke rapid Spanish now, in a whisper, and he could understand only a small part of it, something about giving light. Somehow she was beside him, kneeling on a small bed in a room that smelled of sex, fingering her rosary as she whispered, and as they knelt together to pray for their son, with her hip pressed against his, he felt a coarse rope against his throat. A crowd of men lifted him into the air, the noose tightened, and he awoke gasping and in a sweat, under his father's redwood bark-slab roof, curled behind his second wife, Lucinda.
Jeremiah stared into utter darkness, feeling in two places and two lifetimes at once. He was naked and joined to his wife's back by the effluence of their loving. Slowly, with the coming of dawn, the curve of her cheek came into focus, and the domed silhouette of the great live oak took shape in the warped window glass. The tree emerged from the dark in the manner of a photograph's development, as he'd witnessed in the old newspaper office, a shadow caught on a plate of silver.
Had Ezekiel called? No, there was only the song of one owl to another from the cottonwoods near the river. Jeremiah extricated himself from bed, massaged old wounds and injuries, slipped into his overalls, and checked on his sleeping children. Then he took up his schoolmaster's satchel and crept outside to the bench in the dooryard.
Ezekiel sidled up and placed his pointed snout on Jeremiah's knee as the shadow of the tree became a solid tree. The subtlest idea of color came to the world: the coastal redwood's furry terra-cotta, the corn's hopeful green along the carriage lane, the fallow field brittle with the white gold of summer. Pacific Ocean mist moving slowly among the trees and cornstalks found its way through the folds of the round hills, through grapevine and vegetable plot and pasturage, here rising as steam from a kettle, there falling as water back down to the Sonoma Creek bottom.
Here was a land as much of water as of soil, of the sulfurous breath of the underworld making little geysers in hidden creek hollows. It was a place legendary among both Native and white people for the healing gifts of water rising up through the earth's skin, and Jeremiah thought the passage of men on its surface as miraculous as walking on rivers of water.
He cleaned his reading spectacles and took a deep breath. This was a morning glorious in summer's promise, and the promise of seeing old friends and heroes in the festivities of a nation's birthday, and here was a moment to reflect upon it all before his loving wife and children rose. Yet there was that sensation of the hangman's noose and a bittersweet fragrance from the presence of Teresa in the dream, a dolorous, warm darkness in her coming to him, as she often had in recent dreams, and saying something he couldn't quite understand.
Jeremiah felt that he'd spent much of his life trying to understand things of light and dark, things of great beauty and awesome terror. The way a tree appears out of black nothing and slowly becomes real, a shadow captured by the heliographer's art in silver nitrate. To the great trees his entire day might be the flicker of a rising and setting sun as they inhale and exhale one breath of life through their leaves.
The huge shade oak of the farm, round as a man's brain, took depth and moved in the slightest breeze. Its toothed leaves trembled as the light grew. Jeremiah extracted pen and inkpot and deer-hide journal and placed them on the smooth plank that he customarily used as a portable desk. Then he remembered the special edition of the local news tucked into his satchel and reread the beginning by first light:
A GREAT DAY FOR SONOMA COUNTY By Abner Stiles, Ed. July 4,1876 Folks, this is it! This is the glorious Centennial Fourth of July Edition of your own Sonoma Democrat, and this is the day we have been all anxiously awaiting! For California it's been thirty years since the Papist Monarchial Yoke was lifted, right smack here in the heart of our county, and for American Freedom it's been fivescore since King George's shameful shackles were shed and the Liberty Bell boldly bellowed, "Independence!" The Bald Eagle spread his wings at Concord, and our fathers fostered Freedom ever Westward, culminating here where the mighty California Bear growled and raised his namesake flag in Sonoma's courthouse square! To-day is a Great Day to commemorate the selfless acts of Heroism that created this nation and this state, and there may be no better place in the entire U.S. of A. than right here, in Sonoma County, to celebrate our triumphs! Here in your own Sonoma Democrat you will find listed the many events and speakers slated for our glorious celebration. Take for example ...
He chuckled and sighed with a little envy. Abner Stiles was the local poet laureate, read by scores of people each year and lauded for his prowess as a wordsmith. While Jeremiah contributed a few articles and editorials and tinkered with an epic poem of the West that never reached further than his porch, his old rival Abner, with all his alliterations and exclamations, spoke for the people of Sonoma.
Well, he knew this literary avocation was likely just some form of foolishness. When he tried to set his own thoughts down before farm and school work, before rousting his little boy for his dubious help in milking and feeding, before his wife made the stove clank, even before the cock's crow, it was a fool's errand, to be sure.
And yet the act of trying to write what had happened with clarity, or what a dream might mean to him, and the occasional turn of good words, was such a secret delight. He dipped the pen and made note of the dream of Teresa and the lynch mob and the way Lucinda's cheek and the tree had looked in the darkness before dawn, and the way the geography of Lucinda's body under the blanket seemed to blend with the world at first light. Then he set about listing the chores and events of the day on the margin of the newspaper and checked again on the speakers and events:
Take for example the exploits of one Mister John C. Fremont! World-renowned explorer, War Hero, Presidential Candidate, John Charles Fremont has made a special detour to join his old comrades in arms in our home town! Captain Fremont will be joined on the podium by celebrated statesmen, such as Senator Morris, local representatives of Old California, such as General Mariano Vallejo and Padre Ignacio, Various Heroes of the Bear War and the Civil War, as well as historians, scholars, soldiers and statesmen from across the nation as well as from our own Valley of the Moon. Fellow free Americans, what a century for the Progress of Mankind this has been! We have mapped the mighty rivers, settled the wondrous wilderness, mined the majestic mountains, and crossed the colossal continent with the plenipotentiary locomotive! We have tamed the Savage and freed the Mexican and the Negro from bondage! We have brought light to the redwood forest and made cities of enterprise from dark backwater bogs! Our great nation has survived a War Between Its States, and whether your heart hails from South or North, we here in the West proudly proclaim Progress! Progress as we fulfill our destiny and survey this Pacific domain that the Good Lord has given us to have dominion over! From Sea to Shining Sea, from ...
"Hey, boy, what is it?"
Ezekiel growled, his half-bitten-off ears erect, his brow furrowed, and Jeremiah silenced him as he stepped into the house, snatched the shotgun from its rack, and pocketed the box of shells from its perch above the door. A dark shape emerged from the creek's mist and entered the lane.
It looked to be one of those carriages hired out by the San Francisco line to take the dandies, arthritics, and drunks to the Springs Hotel, except that the team had been cut from six to two and the long wagon was empty save a driver and two passengers on the bench directly behind him. They wound their way among the new corn and stopped beside the barn, and Jeremiah noticed a third passenger now, a small redheaded child clinging to the mother. He leaned the shotgun against the door frame.
A young couple, perhaps half his own age, the gent in top hat and tails, the lady in a high-buttoned dress underpinched by a corset, stepped down from the bench. Peeking from behind the heavy folds of the woman's dress was the freckled little boy, no more than five years old.
The teamster, a burly fellow in slouched hat and suspenders, set to unhitching the horses and leading them to the trough at a nod from Jeremiah, who recognized the wagon hand as the progeny of Badger Smith, an odious companion from his youth. It was always a little difficult to keep the Smith boys straight.
"Sir, hello, and I beg your pardon, sir," the young man called out. His hand stretched out from his shoulder like the tip of a sword, the arm long and thin. By his dress and formality the fellow might have been a snake-oil salesman, but Jeremiah had never seen the lot travel with family and driver before. He could hear his own family now, the baby crying, the little boy calling out, and the footfalls of his wife on the puncheon floor, gathering the children up. Ezekiel gave the stranger a cursory sniff and sauntered over to the teamster at the trough.
"Beautiful place you have here, sir!"
Jeremiah felt a sudden flush of shame. His father, a pious man beset by misfortune, had taken a modest view of man's dominion over the earth, and the earth had generally decomposed the works of his hands in quick fashion. He'd erected a series of simple, jerrybuilt structures based on notions of the land and people about him, the Californy cabin being his ultimate effort: here some lumpy adobe brick, there some logs and planks from a giant tree he and his son had felled; here a few curved sleeves of bark from that same redwood for a roof thatch, there two mismatched windows bartered from the local Spanish alcalde for a buggy wheel. "It's a miracle that it's still standing."
"Well, the land itself. It's a beautiful place!"
They shook hands. "Kind of you to say."
"That old sign by the creek said, 'Fin Hollow Glen'?"
"My father's invention. One of many things he would never explain."
"Fascinating." The man had the rheumy eyes and florid complexion of a drinker, and in fact his breath exuded the bouquet of strong spirits. The woman's eyes were large and frightened, and an auburn ringlet of her hair escaped from the bonnet and swept across her mouth. "I'm very sorry to intrude upon your privacy today, sir."
The heavy redwood door opened, and Lucinda came to his side, holding the infant girl. Little Jake fairly climbed his father's leg and landed in the crook of his arm. "How can we help you, sir?" Jeremiah asked.
The slender gentleman tipped his stovepipe to Lucinda and bowed deeply. He chuckled. "Sir, I hardly know where to begin. This is quite a lark."
Lucinda, who had been trying to arrange a few loose strands of hair behind an ear while holding a hungry babe, managed to step down from the porch and introduce herself to the young mother, whose face softened at this gesture of bonhomie. As the two women spoke in rapid tones, Jeremiah caught the fellow's name and occupation-Nathaniel Burns, attorney on Montgomery and Seventh in San Francisco-and was given a discreet intimation of the purpose of the lawyer's visit to the Sonoma country and its healing mineral waters as a palliative against the scourge of whiskey.
"Husband," Lucinda called up to him, "it's the most remarkable story, don't you think?"
"I don't believe I've received it as yet," he replied, and as the attorney cleared his throat as if about to launch into a closing argument before a judge, the young wife, no doubt emboldened by the kind attention and warmth that Lucinda bestowed upon any stranger, broke in.
"Our little boy," she declared, "says this is his farm!"
Jeremiah watched the lad peek at him from behind the woman's dress. "And it appears that he has brought legal counsel to defend his claim."
Nathaniel Burns bent double with laughter. "No, sir," he sputtered, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief, "I assure you that I am not here to represent a claim or a grievance. Oh, what a lark!"
The baby squalled. "Husband, let me go inside and feed Sarah," Lucinda said. "You bring chairs out to the dooryard here, and I'll make coffee."
"My son has an active imagination. From the very start ..."
The young woman cut in, "His first words, very near, at least, were about his having a farm...."
"We live in the very heart of San Francisco, and there is nobody in our acquaintance who runs a farm or even speaks of ..."
"Of course we thought this was his private, make-believe world," the woman said.
Lucinda, unwilling to miss a word, plopped onto the porch step and discreetly opened her blouse enough to nurse the baby.
"Of course you would," she said. "And you're very obliging parents to entertain his fancy."
"We're indulgent parents," the young woman replied. "Waiter's our only child, and we spoil him dreadfully." She stroked the boy's head. "You have two lovely babes."
"I have another grown, old as yourselves," Lucinda said, "from my previous marriage."
"How wonderful for you!"
"It would be wonderful if he didn't denigrate everything his mother stands for. Jeremiah had one before these two as well, a boy who passed on at a tender age." Jeremiah was amazed at the ease with which his wife related these unusual, some might say scandalous, facts of their lives. "Husband, would you get chairs for our visitors?"
Excerpted from Tears of the Mountain by JOHN ADDIEGO Copyright © 2010 by John Addiego. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The townsfolk of Santa Rosa, California celebrate the centennial Independence Day. Among the people attending is Jeremiah McKinley who looks forward to spending time with his family and friends even as he muses over his past starting with the deadly trek decades ago from Missouri to Sonoma County. However, the day of rejoicing takes a nasty turn when someone poisons Senator Morris in his hotel room. The law arrests Jeremiah's innocuous mentor Professor Elijah Applewood. Making matters worse, Jeremiah, worried for his friend, finds his family has vanished even as notes begin to appear everywhere threatening him. When the Professor vanishes, the law arrests Jeremiah for abetting his escape. He must prove his innocence, find his missing family and friend, and uncover who the guilty person is before he is hung by the law. This is a fascinating Americana tale as seen though the eyes of Jeremiah who has witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in America yet retains his hope for the future especially for his family and friends that life will be better for them. Although the support cast feels somewhat stereotyped, readers will enjoy Jeremiah, who lives up to Three Dog Night's opening line in Joy to the World. His action-packed amateur sleuth rave is one step ahead of a lynching as Tear of the Mountain is a wonderful western thriller. Harriet Klausner